A postcard from the HLPF in New York: Taking stock of the progress towards the 2030 Agenda

By Priya Joshi, GEM Report researcher

priya 1Last Wednesday marked the end of the 2018 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development in New York. The HLPF is the apex institution in the global SDG follow up and review architecture. Each HLPF reviews 5-6 SDGs, giving each a chance for the limelight, assessing related successes, challenges and lessons learned. Next year, SDG 4 will be under the spotlight for the first time, for which the GEM Report will be contributing a special publication.

The purpose of attending this year’s Forum, which focused on ‘transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’ and analysed SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17, was to understand better how we can ensure education is central to next year’s HLPF, but also to assess the extent to which education was part of the other goals’ conversations. We went armed with a new summary of education’s importance for other development goals, and were pleased that some of our messages were reflected in the speeches and discussions we heard.  

Leave no-one behind

6Paving the way nicely for the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion, the strongest undercurrent was the commitment to leave no one behind and achieve social justice. In each sector review, there was a strong call for bottom-up participation, gender equality, inclusion of indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and the most marginalized.

Many statements by the major groups, representing the voices of civil society and non-government stakeholders, echoed the need to eschew profit for the benefit of people, and expressed concern over growing privatization or public-private partnerships. They also noted their concerns over growing use of private roles, without strong accountability mechanisms, which risk exacerbating inequalities.

Education is essential for all global goals

While education was not formally under discussion, it was pleasing to see it discussed as an enabler of sustainable development and inclusion by many, and also indirectly referenced in conversations around professional capacity – an area we will be exploring in more depth in the 2019 GEM Report due out this November. On the other hand, member states’ brief reporting in each goal review session focused on progress on some key measurable targets and did not include a substantial focus on education.

1Education received special mentions by panellists and stakeholders in the discussions around resilience and sustainable production and consumption (SDG 12). Participants also stressed that young people can become assets for building resilient societies and nations and for achieving peace if strategic investments are made in their education, capacities and leadership.

Others highlighted that mainstreaming global citizenship education and education for sustainable development (Target 4.7 in SDG 4) should be a central priority for sustainable consumption and production. They urged countries to report on education in their voluntary national reviews since it is the golden thread that runs through the SDGs.

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In SDG 11 on cities, education was broadly included as one of the sectors that needed to be monitored, and as a ‘basic service’. In specific discussions of efforts to localize the SDGs, some cities from Mexico (Mexico City) and Colombia (Como Vamos cities network) noted the number of indicators they were aiming to monitor by goal, of which education received substantial priority.

Additionally, several sessions captured the challenges related to the key finding in the 2016 GEM Report that  by 2020 there will be 40 million too few workers with tertiary education relative to demand.  With the fourth industrial revolution, given developments like artificial intelligence, technological changes and so forth, there are huge implications for how to prepare people for the world of work.

Two side events had a special emphasis on education.


One side event on disability and SDG 11 hosted by the International Disability Alliance discussed the fact that many people living with disabilities face obstacles realising their right to an education, and yet also lack awareness of their rights because of the low education levels they have received. A participant from Brazil highlighted the fact that less than 6% of websites are accessible, which means that people with disabilities will be left behind in the digital age.

2The session on sanitation as an entry point to education and health highlighted many well-known links between education, health and education. It discussed how water and sanitation affects cognitive development, and how sanitation and hygiene bring education and health together. The Qatar Development Fund mentioned that their international development activities have a special focus on SDGs 3, 4 and 8, noting that 443 million school days are lost due to water, sanitation and hygiene. The director of the Education Cannot Wait Fund also highlighted the need to work on education and water and sanitation together.

Looking to next year: making education central to the 2019 HLPF

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Improving SDG 4 implementation requires concerted actions at the global, regional and national level, and education advocates need to continue their work in that space to influence policy and practice.

Attending the HLPF 2018 discussions showed that those working on SDG 4 have a few specific entry points to ensure that education is centrally located in the HLPF 2019 process and event, in the ministerial declaration, and at the forefront of other sector’s perspectives:

  • Engage with national authorities developing voluntary national reviews to ensure a detailed analysis of education sector challenges
  • Engage with regional commissions that are the main space for regional collaboration and conversation on the way to submitting inputs to the HLPF

More broadly we need to ensure that the whole education community comes together to capitalize on the global spotlight afforded by the 2019 HLPF. Over the next twelve months we must:

  • Engage with the major groups and other stakeholders who are sympathetic to the transformative power of education, as well as other groups invested in the case of leaving no one behind.
  • Develop side events and learning exchange events that engage actors across levels of education and across sectors to encourage interlinkages.





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